Smart Cities - Present and Future

It is estimated that more than half the global population now resides in cities.
It is estimated that more than half the global population now resides in cities. The United Nations projects this number to touch 68% by 2050. This continuing trend puts pressure on an infrastructure that is already ageing. Basic human needs such as electricity, water, transport, sanitation, healthcare, lighting, security, education, internet connectivity – there is a long list of daily needs that need to be scaled up to match the demands of urban population.
Countries around the world have pinned their hopes on Smart City initiatives – investing billions of dollars to make their cities efficient and sustainable. The goal of smart cities is to provide a better quality of life by adopting modern management practices and efficient resource management.
International Data Corporation (IDC) expects nearly 20% increase in smart city initiatives in 2020, taking the total to $124 billion. The curve is expected to follow an upward trajectory for the coming decade.
In this article, we take a deeper look at what a Smart City is all about, various layers of its implementation, common use cases, and benefits they offer that have convinced governments around the globe to spend billions of dollars on it every year.
For any smart city initiative to be successful, all citizen centric services must be modernized. The leadership should take a long-term view and be ready to start (and probably fail) early. Here are the eight generally recognized public facing areas for a successful smart city project:
  1. Mobility
  2. Healthcare
  3. Security
  4. Water
  5. Energy
  6. Engagement and Community
  7. Economic Development and Housing
  8. Sanitation and Waste Management
What Makes a city smart?
Intelligent technology solutions form the core of any smart city project. A city needs modern, tech-enabled infrastructure to engage with its citizens, make systems efficient, and manage services better. In the last decade, the following technologies have evolved from the periphery to become mainstream:
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • Big Data
  • Cloud Computing
  • Virtualization and Digitization
  • Broadband penetration
  • Advanced Analytics Tools
A smart city need infrastructure enabled with sensors and communication networks that can facilitate data exchange seamlessly. Internet of Things (IoT) plays a crucial role here, already powering consumer devices around the world.
Pollution levels, traffic congestion, energy demand and supply, etc. can be analyzed in real time and predictive analytics tools can be deployed to forecast patterns. This data, when made available to the general public, transport operators, and businesses would optimize service delivery.
Requirements of a Smart City
Governments, administrators and vendors around the world are finally realizing that a smart city project goes way beyond fitting sensors to existing infrastructure, fitting digital interfaces and optimizing operations of a city. It is the adoption of technology to analyze data purposefully and make decisions that improve the overall quality of life of all stakeholders.
Smart cities are huge projects and the payback period can easily run into decades. It is a constantly evolving journey that needs cohesive integration across these three layers:
  1. A solid technology infrastructure enabled with high-speed communication. It has modern equipment fitted with sensors that can interact with smartphones and other receiving devices throughout its limits.
  2. Dedicated applications that can consume data from sensors in real time and turn it into actionable insights. This is where app developers and IoT manufacturers come in.
  3. Adoption by governments, corporates and public. This step is dependent on having a critical mass of technology savvy administrators and users with a vision for the future.
Use Cases
Transportation
This is one common problem choking cities around the globe. Roads, underground tunnels, fly-overs, metro trains, train networks are already in place. Though they have done a good job in keeping up with the expanding urban demand, they have their limit. Utilizing existing infrastructure to the maximum is the challenge that holds the key in tackling the growing transportation problem. Though ride-sharing apps and navigational software have done their bit, there is a school of thought indicating shared mobility has added to the chaos on the roads rather than helped solve it.
Smart city implementation will help citizens track the exact location of public transport, its estimated ride time depending upon traffic conditions, availability of last-mile connectivity, etc. For private vehicle owners, it can feed information related to traffic congestion, parking availability, incentivize travel during non-peak hours, and much more.
Smart city investments on traffic management are expected to rise by 25% by 2025.
Security
Smart city pilot projects are already showing promising results in making communities safe. Automated CCTV monitoring and advanced technologies such as real-time face recognition has made it possible for law enforcement agencies to track down offenders proactively. Digital footprints are playing a major role in generating evidence and courts around the world are warming up to digital evidence.
The city of Detroit has teamed up with local business owners, who have agreed to share their security camera footage with law enforcement agencies. Crime rate has already dropped by nearly 50% in such localities.
Enhanced government-citizen engagement
Government bodies are entrusted with delivering a host of services to the public. Though the efficiency has improved after adoption of IT solutions, the systems are fragmented and there a lot of friction in flow of data from one department to another, causing significant delays.
Smart city initiatives are opening up self-service channels for citizens. Services are being delivered digitally, accurately and in a user-friendly manner. This promotes citizen engagement and improves transparency. Government data can be shared through interactive maps and dashboards. Key information related to budgeting, and other essential services can be delivered through live streams and other broadcast channels. This improves quality of life and makes communities attractive to live.
Environment and Sustainability
Cities are witnessing pollution levels like never before. Greenhouse emissions from buildings, vehicles and factories are causing irreparable damage to the environment. Waste management is another major challenge our cities are grappling with.
Air quality sensors can track pollution levels in real time from across the city and help policy makers draft an action plan, in addition to identifying violators. Healthcare issues related to air pollution claim millions of lives annually and this is a solid foundation to identify major contributors and peak hours. This data can be analyzed to come up with measures that would flatten out the peak demand hours. For example, incentivizing citizens to purchase electric vehicles, capping new cars sold, increasing toll payments during peak traffic hours, etc.
Efficient Utilities
We have limited natural resources, which are being harnessed at a breakneck pace. Utilities are now looking at becoming more efficient rather than using up more and more resources to cater to our energy, water, gas, and petroleum demands.
Smart sensors have the ability to point out malfunctioning units of huge transmission and distribution energy networks, which would otherwise take days to detect. Leaking water supply pipes can be identified and repaired in a short time frame, minimizing wastage. At the consumer end, smart metering can track a household’s usage on a daily basis and alert them. This has been taken up as a pilot in Cape Town, South Africa and the results have been promising. Customers have seen their water consumption drop by 40 to 60 percent after they started receiving daily consumption data.
Sanitation
Municipalities deploy huge workforce to clean up cities, collect garbage and dispose them regularly. A large part of it is manual, as they do not have processed data about the critical zones. When fitted to community garbage collectors, smart sensors can let the supervisors know when the bin is full and it can be attended immediately. GPS data can be fed into mobile apps so that consumers know the exact position of garbage trucks and sanitation workers.
It will lead to an overall improvement in customer experience, as complaints and feedback can be given through mobile apps and acted upon quickly.
Infrastructure
Building roads, bridges and buildings require huge capital. These are the life-lines of a city and repair works consume time and resources. It is not possible to monitor entire infrastructure on a regular basis manually. This is where sensors come handy. They can identify cracks and gaps in structure really early and trigger of an alert. Authorities can follow it up with inspection and undertake repair works immediately, before the damage aggravates. Early repair takes less time and money, making the entire system more efficient.
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